RENTON — In a year Seattle’s defense was as penetrable as any since coach Pete Carroll’s first year in 2010, the Seahawks could at least depend on one thing — creating turnovers.
A plus-12 turnover margin was as big a reason for the team’s 11-5 regular season as anything aside from quarterback Russell Wilson’s consistent magnificence.
But when it mattered most, even that betrayed them as the Seahawks did not create a turnover in the final four games, including the 28-23 divisional playoff loss Sunday to Green Bay that ended their season. The defeat, in which one turnover might have turned the tide Seattle’s way, was the first time Seattle has ever gone four consecutive games without creating a turnover.
That might finally have been enough to convince Carroll there are serious problems with a Seattle defense that allowed the second-most yards in team history (6,106) and the second-most rushing touchdowns (22) in ranking 26th overall in total defense in the NFL (381.6 yards allowed per game).
During his season-ending news conference Monday, Carroll said there will be some changes to the team’s defense in 2020.
He didn’t mention specifics other than to say, “There will be some of everything, a little bit of everything. We are going to work hard at it. Some of it will be going back to things we’ve done and some of it will be moving forward. … It’s difficult to adjust some things in the middle of the year.’’
Whether that includes any changes to the coaching staff is hard to tell. Asked if there could be any sort of staff changes, Carroll said only that there’s “nothing to talk about, no,’’ which didn’t seem to rule anything out.
This was Ken Norton Jr.’s second season as defensive coordinator after he returned to the team in 2018 when Kris Richard was fired following the 2017 season (Norton had previously been linebackers coach). Norton is the fourth defensive coordinator Carroll has had in 10 seasons – Gus Bradley and Dan Quinn preceded Richard before leaving for head coaching jobs.
But any coaching change could also simply be with position coaches — the Seahawks almost annually have a handful of changes somewhere on a staff that this year had 27 assistants, eight who work specifically on defense.
Carroll, though, did cite a few specific issues with Seattle’s defense — an inability to get consistent pressure on the quarterback, getting beaten too often on plays on the perimeter and youth in the secondary.
“We were not consistent,’’ he said. “Gave up too many explosive plays and for the most part we had problems on the edge. We had containment issues.’’
As Carroll noted, turnovers often are caused by forcing the opposing quarterback into errors. But Seattle struggled with its pass rush all season, getting just 28 sacks. The Seahawks broke out with seven in the wild-card victory against the Eagles, but reverted to form against the Packers with two.
“Generally that happens because of the pressure on the quarterback,’’ Carroll said of creating turnovers. “We didn’t get the ball out like we needed to down the stretch.”
What Carroll didn’t necessarily seem displeased with was the team’s decision this season to stay in a base defense — meaning, keeping all three linebackers on the field — more than any team in the NFL at almost 70%.
Carroll rolled off a few numbers from the last five games of the season, notably in defending the run, as reasons staying in the base often worked. But he also noted that opponents did not use as many three-receiver sets against Seattle’s base defense as the Seahawks anticipated and he said seeing how teams reacted to what the Seahawks did this year was “a good learning year for us.’’
Carroll didn’t say if the Seahawks would move away from using so much base defense, which was in large part a function of having signed Mychal Kendricks to play strongside linebacker and feeling he could defend the pass well enough and would be an upgrade against the run (he is now a free agent and also suffered an ACL injury).
More of an issue Sunday was youth in the secondary as second-year player Tre Flowers and rookie nickel Ugo Amadi struggled throughout.
Flowers was judged by NFL’s Next Gen Stats to allow three receptions for 65 yards and a touchdown while Amadi gave up two receptions for 52 yards and another score.
Both gave up some big third-down receptions as the Packers hit on 9 of 14 and were able to hit two on plays of third-and-eight and third-and-nine to run out the clock on the final drive.
Flowers also was called for two potentially costly pass interference penalties against the Eagles in appearing to take a step back at the end of his second season after ranking as one of the team’s pleasant surprises as a rookie in 2018.
Carroll said of Flowers’ performance against the Packers that “it was hard on him yesterday.’’ As for Flowers’ overall play, Carroll said he told him “we’ve got to come back better next year and capitalize on all of the experiences and settle in.’’
As for the pass rush, that would seem to make it a slam dunk that Seattle will do what it takes to re-sign Jadeveon Clowney, who when healthy was by far the team’s best defensive end in 2019.
Clowney, who will have surgery for a core muscle injury, is generally expected to explore free agency in March, but Carroll said Monday the team will try hard to keep him.
“He’s a terrific football player and had a big impact on us and we would love to have him back,’’ Carroll said, adding he thinks there are some positive signs that Clowney will consider staying.
“He loves it here and he wants to be here,” Carroll said. “He dropped up to see (Seahawks general manager) John (Schneider) just to let him know how important it was to him. He had a great time. He loves it here and he wants to be here.”
- Defensive end Quinton Jefferson suffered a broken foot Sunday and will need surgery.
- Center Joey Hunt dealt with a stress fracture in his fibula for much of the past two months after taking over for starter Justin Britt.
- Carroll didn’t rule out that Marshawn Lynch might continue to play: “He’s going to go home and think about it and all that. … I don’t know what he’s going to do. I don’t think he knows yet.’’